This article was featured in The Brunswick Beacon’s Tides section:
If you walk the beaches of Brunswick County, chances are you’ll see the easily recognizable black and silver covers of E.L. James’ bestselling trilogy: Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed. They have been on the New York Times bestseller lists for several months now, unequivocally earning the title of this year’s hottest beach reads.
Women (and some men), sit engrossed on our beaches while their minds are transported to the Pacific Coast where the romance of the century plays out. The majority of these women are young mothers who long for granite countertops and infinity pools, or at least for a break from the demands of housework and child rearing, so it’s no wonder they’re bowled over by a man who has a parking garage full of exotic cars, hangars with planes and helicopters (which he flies himself), luxurious yachts in faraway marinas, and upscale condos in all the trendy places.
As a writer of all things romance, I was, of course, curious. Notably, the reviews were mixed—these are love ‘em or hate ‘em books—very few readers are ambivalent. For my part, I find it’s hard to argue with any book that makes its way to the top of the bestseller lists. Three at one time? Almost unheard of—I think Nora Roberts has done it once or twice, but never for this long. I am of the opinion that any book that can bring romance, and in this case, erotic romance to the forefront, is welcome to the pinnacle. But, biases aside, I promise to be impartial.
First, I should mention these are weighty tomes, many who have ventured an opinion have not read the entire series, which, save for the genius of marketing, could have been one book. The story is broken up into manageable chunks, one book devoted to the beginning, one to the middle, and one to the satisfying end. If you’ve only read one book, you’re missing two thirds of the story. At 500 + pages each, close to 1700 in total, it surpasses Gone with the Wind (960), or Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (688). By breaking up the story, and thereby forcing sales of the other two, it’s a substantial cash outlay at $47.85 for paperbacks, considerably more than most new releases in hardcover. The electronic versions, added together, are about half that amount.
So, read them I did . . . every spare moment I got. I loved the story and quickly became engrossed in the characters, and devoured the bedroom scenes that were doled out like wickedly sinful truffles. Here’s what I have to report:
As a romance, it’s “overblown.” Which may sound like a bad thing, but in actuality, it’s a good thing. It’s something I often try to do in my own books. Writing romance is akin to writing fantasy. If you’re going to dream up the perfect hero, you’re going to want him to be the handsomest, hunkiest, richest, smartest, and most powerful thing going. He’s going to drive the most expensive cars, own mega companies, have loads of people at his beck and call (think Edward in Pretty Woman), and be able to lavish his heroine in very way possible. Enter Christian Grey—mega rich, drop dead gorgeous, devilishly suave, stylish, witty, and über smart—the perfect alpha male. I am reminded of J.D. Robb’s Roarke in her In Death series, sans the husky brogue.
Writing from the heroine’s perspective (first person point of view), allows the reader to see how she thinks of herself, which is humble, principled, self-effacing at times, yet devoted, fierce and strong-minded with lots of spunk. I imagine E.L. James had an impoverished Kate Middleton in mind here. It takes Christian a while to realize he can’t buy himself into a relationship with Anastasia.
But then of course, there are the inevitable problems, he’s never been in a long-term relationship that wasn’t defined by sex, and his childhood traumas have left him with emotions he’s not able to express in conventional ways. Anastasia is young and naïve, lost in a world of pleasure she knows little about while she endeavors to start a new career and relocate. A lot of Christian and Ana’s issues are worked out in emails that highlight some of the best writing in the books.
Christian is flawed; having many shades of grey, the full spectrum—from pale ash to darkest charcoal—hence the title. Needing to dominate his Anastasia, while she, independent and empowered, refuses to relinquish all of her power to his dark side and be the submissive he desires. As Christian falls madly in love with her, the reader gets to see him change and work his way back from being seriously flawed to being nigh onto perfect—perfect for Ana. Throw in a stalker, wild chase scenes, jealous former lovers and lots of intrigue and it’s the makings of a bestseller. Well . . . duh!
If you poll many readers, most will tell you it’s not well written. I disagree . . . somewhat. An editor would have spotted the problem causing all the major ballyhoo right away. It’s a common mistake first time writers often make. E.L. James chose to write in first person, in itself not that unusual, in fact many bestselling writers are using a first person P.O.V. (point of view) these days. The problem comes from tense. She chose to write in simple present, which is, to be blunt, taboo. In fact, it was very hard to adapt to while reading the first book. I wanted to redline every verb for the first hundred pages, by the second and third, I’d been acclimated. It’s the difference between saying, “I smile,” as opposed to saying, “I smiled.” It’s really hard to read a book written in simple present tense, so that’s really my one big complaint. I’m sure by now that many people have mentioned this to her and maybe she will choose the more generally accepted simple past tense for her next book. But I certainly wouldn’t let this keep you from reading this summer’s hottest new read, you’ll get used to it.
Who wouldn’t want to drop into the world of the rich and famous for a short spate, and live out fantasies about having it all while being entertained with a fast-paced, spicy romance? If you enjoy reading the Shades trilogy, please check out my new book, Flash Drive, which I have dubbed, “Shades of Brunswick Beaches.” It’s about a woman who loses her flash drive; on it are her fantasies, spelled out. The man who finds it and reads her stories is compelled to find her and show her dreams can come true. It’s a little stalker-ish too, but definitely a romance with the H.E.A. (happily ever after). And it has lots of those “wickedly sinful truffles.” Maybe one day I’ll walk along the beach and see my book in everyone’s hands. One can fantasize . . .
Jacqueline (Jack) DeGroot